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Unusual IPS School Board Meeting

Unusual Sunday IPS School Board Meeting. With Board Members Seated At Table, Not At Their Usual Seats At Rear Of Room. Source: Amos Brown

In reporting on and attending Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Board Meetings for over thirty-five years, this past Sunday was the weirdest, most unusual IPS Board meeting ever! It started when on March 18th, the IPS School Board announced that they would “Meet in a Special Called Meeting on Sunday, March 22, 2015 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. in the foyer of the John Morton Finney Center for Educational Services to discuss autonomy, mission and vision.” What transpired was an unusual, out of character public meeting, scheduled on an unusual day – a Sunday. The bizarre and weird occurrences that took place has many wondering what the IPS school board is thinking and do they have the best interests of the public at heart. Board members, after the fact, described the meeting as a “work session”, but given that the formal announcement described the meeting as a “Special Called Meeting” and the fact that it was being held on a Sunday afternoon, highly irregular as public and government bodies usually only hold meetings on Sundays in event of emergency situations, caused a few media, including Afternoons with Amos, and others to to show up. Under Indiana law, anytime a majority of a public body, like a school board, gets together to discuss a topic, it must be done in an open, public meeting. Usually these types of meetings to allow the board, in public, to discuss an issue(s) without making a formal public vote, have been held on weekday evenings, or occasionally on a Saturday. But never on a Sunday. In Indiana and throughout this country, public bodies – Legislatures, local councils, elected school boards – don’t meet on Sundays. Unless it’s an emergency of some sort. Even Congress rarely meets Sundays.  Seems the Board wanted this meeting to be a casual affair. But it came off as a bungled exercise in hubris and public disdain.

Unusual IPS School Board Meeting

Two Board Members Leaving “Foyer”/Lobby Of Education Center. This Is Original Local Of Unusual Sunday Meeting. Source: Amos Brown

Even though scheduled for the “Foyer”, or lobby, of the Education Center, minutes before the meeting began it was moved into official Board Room because enough of the “public” showed up and there wasn’t enough seating in the “foyer”. But, instead of sitting in their formal seats in the Board Meeting Room, the six IPS Board members present pulled up an eight foot table, arranged chairs around it, and began their public meeting. There was no roll call, no Pledge of Allegiance (standard procedure at public IPS Board meetings). The Board Secretary was absent; so I have no clue who was taking notes for minutes or a meeting summary.

IPS Board President Diane Arnold told the public that they were welcome to “sit and listen” but there “would be no public comment of discussion”. Just the board talking amongst themselves. Then the biggest problem. No sound system, microphones or even a bullhorn. The Board members talked amongst themselves, but unless you were sitting in the first or second row, you couldn’t hear a thing! Gayle Cosby pressed her fellow board members to try and get the sound system working. The room’s wireless mikes were “on”, but no one knew how to work the system. And the Board had refused to ask for the AV staff to be on duty. So, eventually IPS Board President Diane Arnold said the public could move their chairs closer. But no one heard her instructions. And Arnold didn’t stop the meeting to tell the public present her decision.

I learned of it from this tweet and relayed info to those attending and defiantly moved my chair closer. Later, commenting on a local education blog, an individual identifying themselves as IPS Board Member Kelly Bentley commented about negative reaction to the Board’s unusual Sunday meeting.

Unusual IPS School Board Meeting

Proposed “Vision Statement” for IPS Worked On During Unusual Sunday Meeting. Source: Amos Brown

Said Bentley on the Blog Inside Public Schools, “This was a Board work session. It was a meeting held in public not a public meeting. Minutes do not have to be taken because the finished product–a mission statement, vision statement, and a vision for school autonomy will be discussed and voted on during an official meeting. Generally very few members of the public attend these meetings so we were unprepared for the large number of teachers, union reps, and media who were there. We will plan accordingly in the future.” It’s becoming obvious that the leadership of IPS has made a conscious decision to openly provide as little public input and involvement in what, to many, looks like radical plans to change the system. Into what no one’s quite sure yet. In an exclusive Afternoons with Amos interview, former IPS Board Member Michael Brown, who served sixteen years on the Board, sharply criticized the Board’s unusual Sunday meeting and their actions in not making the meeting accessible.  Michael Brown sharply disagreed with contentions by Board Member Kelly Bentley that the meeting was a “work session” saying that the the meeting was a public “Special Called Meeting”. “If it was a work session”, said Michael Brown, “the public noticed should have clearly said so”. Brown blasted a statement to Afternoons with Amos by IPS Board member Caitlin Hannon who said that the Board “Had multiple work sessions on Sundays in my time on the board. We’ve always been able to have them in the board office because folks rarely come.” Said Michael Brown, “Those were executive sessions. Not public meetings Many dealing with hiring the now IPS Superintendent. Brown emphatically said during his years on the IPS Board, they never held any public sessions on a Sunday. Brown also took issue with statements to blogs by IPS Board Member Kelly Bentley who said that the Board was “unprepared” for the large numbers of the public who showed up.  A number that was less than twenty persons. Michael Brown also warned listeners that the Board’s unusual action is a symptom of the IPS Board and Superintendent taking not wanting to open their actions to community scrutiny and comment.  On Our NEW Media Player Hear Amos’ First Person Description of the Weird and Unusual Events of An Unprecedented IPS School Board Meeting and Comments and Concerns from Former Board member Michael Brown. Runs 30 Minutes ©2015 WTLC/Radio One. Audio Begins After Brief Video Ad.